Map used: 1:50,000 Arolla hiking map, 283T
Date: 3rd of August, 2005
Distance, Elevation Gain/Loss: 21.6 km, 1,200/550 m
Cabane des Aiguilles Rouges Coordinates: 601 457 / 100 536
On the 3rd of August I planned to go from the Grande Dixence dam to the Cabane des Aiguilles Rouges by the Col des Ignes. As the title of this page implies I ended up going over the Col de Riedmatten. The day before I had called the gardien to make a reservation, and asked about the Col des Ignes route. He confirmed that it was normally easy, but warned that it had snowed above 3,000 meters that day, and that the col is at an elevation of over 3,100 meters. Since the path to the Col des Ignes branches off the one to the Col de Riedmatten I planned to decide which col to take when I got to the junction.
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From Le Chargeur to Cabane des Aiguilles Rouges to La Gouille
As I was now staying in Evolène I was able to take the first bus, reaching Vex in time to take the 7:30 bus to La Dixence, arriving there at 8:20. Since the cable car does not start running until 9:35 I reluctantly walked up to the top of the dam. It was a thoroughly uninteresting walk, but got me up at a more appropriate time than on my previous trip to the Cabane des Dix. It also added 300 meters of elevation gain to what was going to be a very long day!
The walk along the lake was monotonous, as the low clouds completely obstructed the views. Shortly after reaching the SE corner of the lake the trail heads up and to the south, after a short distance the trail to the cols branches to the left, while the trail to the Cabane des Dix goes straight. The trail to the cols soon crosses the inlet stream. The descriptions of the old bridge over the lake inlet were a bit scary, the current bridge is totally non-threatening.
The trail along the east side of the valley rises gradually, crossing several boulder fields and a couple of streams, one of which was rather difficult to cross. When I reached the point where the trail to the Col des Ignes branches off I hesitated. Visibility was poor, the trail is little used, and the hut gardien had warned me that it had snowed high up. So, reluctantly, I continued up the valley to the point where the trail starts its steep ascent up to the Col de Riedmatten. (In July 2008 I finally crossed the col from the Cabane des Dix to the Cabane des Aiguilles Rouges)
The climb up to the col was unpleasant: very steep, with bad (slippery) footing. A few days ago I had heard a hiker in Arolla complain about that route's steepness and slipperiness, with the previous day's rain it was very unpleasant. I definitely found the Pas de Chèvres much easier and pleasanter.
From the col there is a steep descent, after which the the trail fortunately becomes rather easy. At the point marked 2399 on the map a wide track crosses the trail; it is not marked but it is completely clear from the map that the track leads to Pra Gras. Shortly thereafter the track branched; as I was looking at my map a small truck stopped and a farmer asked me where I was headed. When I told her I was going to Pra Gras she confirmed that I should take the left fork, and also warned me that I would meet an electric fence. She kindly explained how to open the gate; there is an insulated handle. I thanked her and went on my way.
From there it was a long slog to the Cabane des Aiguilles Rouges, the path was relatively easy but I was tired, had been walking in the clouds and mist all day (no rain, fortunately), and was beginning to feel sorry for myself. I got to the Cabane before dinner time, and quickly had a beer, which lifted my spirits immensely.
The Cabane des Aiguilles Rouges is not a frequent overnight destination for hikers, though many visit it by day as part of a classic loop from Arolla. I was the only hiker that night, all the other guests were climbers planning some sort of adventure on the Aiguilles Rouges. I was also apparently the only guest over thirty years old! So, given the difference in age and in interests, I was pretty much on my own that night.
Next morning the weather had improved markedly, and visibility was excellent. The view to the east from the Cabane is exceptional, with the east wall of the Val d'Hérens and its many sharp Aiguilles (above all the Aiguille de la Tsa) and the glaciated summits of Mont Collon and, further away, the Dent Blanche. Both Kev Reynolds (in his Walking in the Valais) and Philippe Noth, in his Cabane des Aiguilles Rouges page, describe the descent to Lac Bleu as tiring. I did not find it so, perhaps because for almost half an hour I was able to watch a herd of chamoix bounding up and down the slopes; an unforgettable sight! At la Gouille I had a second breakfast while waiting for the bus which took me back to Evolène.